Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just a Wall - Chapter Ten

When I woke the next morning, Mother and Max were already eating breakfast. Father had gone down to the newsstand in search of another newspaper, hopefully one with more details than yesterday's.

“I hope you father gets back soon so he won’t have to rush to get ready for church,” Mother said.

It was the first time since August that we’re attending services, and she’s really looking forward to it. For Max and me, church is more of a social affair than a solemn time. It provides an opportunity to see friends who we only have a chance to visit with on Sundays. I know Mother has been feeling very isolated over the past few weeks, and she’s looking forward to seeing all of her friends as much as we are.

Just as I sat down, Father walked in. “Oh good, you’re back. Have some coffee, and then we need to get ready for church,” she said as she filled his cup.  The newspaper appeared to be thicker than the one he had yesterday.

“About church,” he said. “Since it isn’t far from the newsstand, I walked past to make sure services were being held today." He paused, taking a deep breath. "The doors are locked. There's a sign posted, in Russian, that all places of religious worship are closed.”

“Closed!” Mother said, dropping into her chair. “Why would they close the churches?”

Max jumped in. “It’s the Communists. The official state ‘religion’ in the Soviet Union is atheism. They discourage, sometimes forcefully, the religious practices of all believers, as they call them. I remember reading that after their revolution, many bishops and priests were killed, and many more were persecuted. Church property was confiscated and destroyed. Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques as well, all religions.”

“It’ll be okay, Zofia,” Father said reassuringly. “They can’t take away our faith simply by closing a few buildings. Maybe you and your friends can organize a weekly bible study disguised as a luncheon. I’m sure we can figure out something. This isn’t the first time in history that one group of people has tried to suppress the beliefs of another. The latter group usually finds a way to persevere.”

“I guess so,” Mother said with a sigh. “Maybe we can go visit Jozef and Rose after lunch, and Rose and I can discuss this.”

I’m not in the mood for visiting today. My mind was still taking me back to yesterday afternoon with Peter, and I also wanted to make sure I was ready to go back to school tomorrow.

“Would you mind if I don’t go with you to Uncle Jozef’s house?” I asked. “I have some things I want to get done to be ready for school tomorrow.”

“I think that’ll be alright,” Father replied. "Max, are you coming with us?”

“Yes. I need to speak with Uncle Jozef about a few things.”

After lunch, they left. “We won’t be gone long,” Father said as he closed the door. I finally had the apartment to myself again. I peeked out the window, watching them walk away. As soon as they turned the corner, I ran downstairs and across the street to Wanda’s building. Her mother answered the door. “Why, Helena, it’s so nice to see you. Please come in.”

“Thank you. I just need to speak with Wanda for a moment.” Wanda came out from her room. “Helena! I thought that was your voice. Can you stay for a while?”

“Actually, I can’t. My parents are out, and I shouldn’t even be here. I just wanted to let you know that Max will walk with us to school in the mornings. With university classes cancelled, he’ll be working at my uncle’s law firm and has to walk in that direction anyway.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Wanda’s mother said. “I’ll feel a lot better knowing you two won’t be walking alone. You had better get home now before your parents return and you get into trouble.”

“Yes, I should. Wanda, we’ll meet you out front in the morning.”

“Ok, see you then,” she said with a nod.

I ran back across the street. I didn’t really have much to do to get ready for school tomorrow. I just wanted some time alone. I turned on the radio to listen to a little music and relaxed on the sofa, making sure to listen for my parents coming up the stairs.


Finally! Monday morning arrived. Time to go back to school. I was awake, dressed, and ready to go early, so I just sat on the sofa, staring at Max as he slowly drank his coffee and re-read the weekend newspapers. He glimpsed over at me, knowing I was eager to go.

“We can’t leave early or we’ll miss Wanda,” he teased.

“I know. I’m just excited to see my friends.”

He nodded, finished his coffee, and went to get dressed.

Wanda was waiting in the doorway of her building when Max and I walked out. She ran to hug me.

“I’m so excited to be going back to school,” Wanda exclaimed. “Not just to be at school, but after several weeks of being more or less trapped in that apartment, I’m just glad to be outdoors and around other people. I know my parents love me, but there is such a thing as too much.”

“You haven’t been outside at all?” I asked.

“A couple of times, but my mother is very nervous about going out, and my father humored her requests to keep me indoors.”

“Well, it’s good to see you, too,” I said and we locked arms as we walked.

“Wanda, your father works at city hall, right?” Max asked.

“Yes, he does. He manages the records room. He says it’s not very exciting, but not many people have the patience for all of that paperwork, and he feels pretty secure in his position.”

“The Germans and the Russians kept him on staff?”

“Yes. My grandparents, his parents, had emigrated from Ukraine shortly before he was born, so they spoke fluent Russian, which they taught him. His father worked in the import/export industry and so also knew German, which he also passed on to my father. I guess both the Germans and Russians see some value in that. My father is just glad to still have a job. Most of the employees at city hall were immediately fired, or worse.”

“He must overhear a lot of interesting news,” Max commented.

“I don’t know,” Wanda says with a shrug. “He hasn’t mentioned anything to me.”

We saw a large crowd of students up ahead, in front of the school. “Bye, Max,” Wanda and I said at the same time and ran ahead.

All of the girls were hugging, and the boys were shaking hands. It's wonderful to see everyone again. “How are you?” “How is your family?” “I’m glad to hear that everyone is safe.” “I’m so glad to be back at school.” We were all asking the same questions, and thankfully, most of us had the same positive responses. I’m sure that there were a few fathers, uncles, and brothers who may have been killed or captured during the invasion, but for now everyone seems happy. The vice principal appeared in the doorway and waved us in. Just as we began to file in the door, I saw Maria and gave her a big smile and wave. I’ll see her before second period.

At the end of the school day, my friends and I were all out in front again, catching up. Wanda was standing nearby, constantly checking her watch. Her parents insisted that she come home right after school, but I knew she didn’t want to walk home alone. I nodded at her, acknowledging that I knew she really wants to leave. Just as we turned to walk home, a jeep full of Russian soldiers came speeding up the street, sending some of us leaping for the sidewalk. One girl tripped over the curb and had to be helped up, her knee bleeding. Damn Russians!

“Sorry I had to ask you to leave,” Wanda said. “My mother will be worried if I don’t come straight home.”

“That’s okay. Why can’t they lighten up the rules a bit, especially if they know you’ll be with a group of friends? We’re old enough now for our parents to begin treating us more like adults.”

“I know. You’re right. It’s worse now with the Russians in control of the city. Maybe if we make plans for a specific outing I could get my mother to agree to let me go. Let me know the next time you have something planned.”

“I’ll do that. It’ll be fun to have you hang out with us.”

We arrived home, and we each turned into our respective buildings. I had a lot of homework to do because the teachers want us to try to make up for all of the time lost while the school was closed. Mother had cookies and milk waiting for me. I’ll never be too old for cookies and milk. It took me the rest of the afternoon to finish all of the homework. After dinner we listened to the radio for a while, catching up on what little news the London station had to broadcast, and then Father switched to his favorite classical music station. It had been a long day, and the music made me sleepy, so I turned in early.

And so went the rest of the week, minus the speeding jeep. My parents said it was okay for me to meet with Maria and Tomas on Friday afternoon. I was surprised that Wanda’s parents gave her permission to join us, but I was glad they did. It’ll be good for Wanda to get out more. We walked toward our favorite café near the park. If it appeared safe for us to be there, we’d stay. If not, we’d find somewhere else to have a snack and hang out. I hadn’t been near the park for several weeks and was very happy to see that, aside from a few store fronts that are still boarded up, it looks much like it had before the war started. I noticed several Russian soldiers patrolling nearby, but they didn’t seem to take an interest in much of anything.

“This is a lovely spot,” Wanda said, surprising us by speaking first. “The park is beautiful in the autumn, especially on a sunny afternoon like today. Is this your regular Friday afternoon hangout?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Unless the weather is bad or the city is being bombed, this is where we like to come. It’s fun to watch people going about their business, not knowing they’re being watched.” Maria knew I was attempting a joke with the bomb comment, but all she could manage was a smirk. I guess it wasn’t funny.

Our tea and biscuits arrived. During the past month, Maria turned sixteen and Tomas turned seventeen, so I proposed a toast to their birthdays. Tea isn’t for toasting, but when you’re sixteen, you have to improvise. We gently clinked our cups and took a sip. We chatted about the events of the past few weeks. Maria’s family received word this week that one of her cousins was captured by the Germans and was transferred to a POW camp in Germany. Tomas’s uncle was a colonel in the infantry. He suffered serious injuries but, with time, is expected to make a full recovery. I told them the story about how Max survived.

“Max actually lived with Jews!” Maria exclaimed. “That must have been terrible.”

“Not as terrible as the fighting and being killed or captured,” I replied. “He said they were very nice people. He thinks they liked having him there since their two sons were off at war. Maybe they hoped that if their sons needed help, someone would take them in.”

“I can’t imagine spending that much time around Jews,” Maria continued. “My father says they're filthy and deceitful. If a Jew ever comes into one of his dry-cleaning stores, he charges him more to clean his clothes because they’re disgusting.”

“Do you actually know any Jews, Maria?” Tomas asked.

“No. And I wouldn’t want to.”

“How can you assume that all Jews are like that when you’ve never even met one?” I asked.

“My parents hate Jews. My grandparents hate Jews. They must have a reason. Besides, look around at the shops. The only shops the Germans destroyed were Jewish-owned. When that many people hate the Jews, there must be a reason.”

I guess Maria has a point, but it still doesn’t sound right to me.

“My mother’s brother married a woman who is half Jewish, and she’s always seemed very nice,” Wanda commented.

“Her Polish blood must be stronger than her Jewish blood,” Maria said.

Tomas made a face. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes perfect sense to me. My father told me that can happen.”

“Okay,” I said. “This conversation is getting a little strange. Maybe we need to switch to a new topic.”

“I have one,” Tomas said. “My uncle has a movie projector and a nice collection of movies that he purchased this summer when he was in Warsaw. He’s having a party next Saturday night, and he said I could invite some friends. We can watch movies, make popcorn. It’ll be fun. Would you all like to come?”

“Movies!” I exclaimed. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie. I’ll have to check with my parents, but I’m sure it will be okay as long as Max or my father can walk me there and back.”

“You won’t have to walk back that night,” Maria commented. “Tomas’s uncle lives near me so you can stay over at my house.”

“That sounds like fun,” Wanda said. “I’ll have to ask my parents, though. They'll want your uncle’s name and phone number, if that’s okay.”

Tomas scribbled his uncle’s name and number on a napkin and handed it to Wanda. With that, we finished our tea, and it was time leave. When the check arrived I grabbed it. Maria and Tomas seemed shocked. “My treat,” I said. “Happy birthday.”  They both smiled and thanked me. Wanda and I walked off in one direction, Maria and Tomas in another.

“That was a lot of fun,” Wanda said. “You’re right. I do need to get out more. I hope my parents let me attend the party next weekend. I wonder what movies they’ll show.”

As I stepped through the apartment door, my mother was standing right in front of me. “Where have you been? I thought you were coming straight home from school,” she yelled.

“I was at the café with Maria, Tomas, and Wanda, our regular Friday afternoon get-together. Now that we’re back in school I thought you knew that I’d be there. You gave me permission to go.”

“Oh yes, I forgot,” she said, smoothing her apron. “I did say it was okay. Sorry.”

“I should have reminded you this morning. I’m sorry you were worried about me. I’ll make sure to let you know whenever I’m going out.”

She gave me a big hug. “I’m sorry I yelled. I was just worried. You’re a responsible young woman, but there are a lot of things in the world that are out of our control, and we have to be doubly careful nowadays.”

I gave her a kiss on the cheek and we walked into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. “Speaking of going out,” I said. “Tomas invited Wanda and me to a party next Saturday at his uncle’s house. It’s a movie party. He’ll be showing some movies and making popcorn. It sounds like fun. If Max or Father can walk us over there, Maria said we could spend the night at her house.”

“If you father says it’s okay, you can go.”

“Thank you. It’ll be wonderful to see movies again. It’s been a while. I hope Wanda’s parents let her come. You know how strict they can be.”


It was a quiet weekend. I had a lot of reading to do but I did take a break Saturday afternoon for lunch with Peter. Father was busy trying to find current newspapers. The news we’re getting over the radio is too general for him and has nothing to do with our little part of the world. He quickly realized that the print news wasn’t much better. Max spendt most of his time off with his friends doing who knows what. He’s been working at Uncle Jozef’s law firm for a week now, but I know that he’s only working part-time. The rest of his day is spent at the university library with his “study group.” I’m not sure if my parents knew anything about that. Mother is busy planning her Sunday bible study brunch with her friends. Aunt Rose and a few of their friends loved the idea but all of the planning was left to my mother. She doesn’t mind. Their first meeting is next weekend at Aunt Rose’s house.

Father gave me permission to attend the movie party next weekend. Knowing that was only a few days away made the school week go by faster. The city was surprisingly quiet, at least our neighborhood. We occasionally heard gunfire from the other side of town. Even though it’s far away, Mother still sits and worries until Father and Max return home. She tries not to let them know she’s concerned for their safety, but I think they knew. It’s obvious to me.

Saturday finally arrived. Maria and I cancelled Friday afternoon tea because we knew we’d see each other today. Surprising us again, Wanda’s parents said she could go to the party as long as Max or my father walked us there and back, and Wanda called home when she arrived at the party, when she left the party to go to Maria’s house, and when she left Maria’s house Sunday morning.  They still weren’t ready to let her out into the world, but this was a step in the right direction. My father walked us to the party because he wanted to check the newsstands on that side of the town square for any newspapers he hadn’t seen yet.

A lot of people had already arrived for the party. Tomas pointed out his uncle across the room, and we waved. He was still using crutches and had to wear a back brace, but he seemed to be in good spirits. Those of us not old enough to drink alcohol yet had punch, and all of the snacks were just like the ones sold at the movie theater. I went straight for a large bag of popcorn. We finally had a chance to catch up with more friends from school. There never seems to be enough time before and after class. Tomas told me that I could invite Peter so I was keeping an eye on the front door for him. When I saw him arrive I’m sure my face lit up.

“Helena’s in love,” Maria teased.

“I am not. We barely know each other.”

Peter came over and met all of my friends. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in my ear, knowing that would make me blush. He smiled at me.

The call went out for everyone to head down to the basement for the movies. There were chairs and sofas of all shapes and sizes. Maria, Tomas, Peter, and I found a love seat large enough for the four of us. For the first time, I dedn’t feel like a third wheel around Maria and Tomas. I have my own boyfriend with his arm around me. I felt so grown-up.

There was a collective “shh!” as the lights were turned off and the movie started. The first movie was The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, followed by the musical Sweethearts with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Most of the women seemed to like the musical best. I even saw Maria tear up during the romantic scenes. I prefer the action movie with Errol Flynn rescuing everyone who needed rescuing--very exciting. He also wasn’t bad to look at. The movies are in English with Polish subtitles. I understand the occasional English word but had to rely on the subtitles. After the party broke up, Maria, Tomas, Wanda, Peter, and I walked the two blocks to Maria’s house. I’m usually not out this late, and even though it was dark and a little scary, I found myself very alert. Peter and Tomas bid us a good evening and headed home. Maria, Wanda, and I were all tired so we went straight to bed.


The next morning, I heard noises downstairs but didn’t feel like waking up yet.  I kept my eyes closed and gave my legs a good stretch. I hadn’t been able to sleep this late in a long time. Suddenly Maria’s mother opened the door. “Helena, hurry and get dressed. Your brother is here to pick you up.”

“What’s the rush? I told him I’d call when I’m ready to go home.”

“Just get dressed. Something’s happened to your mother, and she’s in the hospital. Hurry.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Just a Wall - Chapter Nine

Saturday morning I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling before sunrise, and I couldn’t fall back to sleep. The fact that I was able to fall asleep at all last night surprised me. I spent an hour last night trying to decide what to wear for my date. I don’t know if I was more excited to be seeing Peter or that this is going to be my first date. The latter is probably more likely because I barely know Peter. He’s good looking and I really like his smile. His hair is a medium brown, parted slightly to one side with a sweep of hair covering part of his forehead, and he has hazel eyes. I’m surprised that I had time to notice the color of his eyes during our short meeting. I assume he’s intelligent because Max always seems to have smart friends. Okay, still not sleepy, and thinking about Peter certainly isn’t going to help.

I put on my robe and slippers, and went out into the kitchen to make some toast. Everyone else was still sleeping. Father walked in just after my toast popped. “Did I wake you?”

He shook his head from side to side as he let out a big yawn. “No. I had a restless night and couldn’t get back to sleep again.” He's already dressed in his weekend attire, casual pants and a button-up shirt. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “I just want to run down to see if the newsstand has reopened and if there are any newspapers.”

He quietly closed the door as he left so as to not awaken anyone else. I sat at the table nibbling on my toast, staring off into space. I was startled a little while later when Father returned with a newspaper. It’s been a few weeks since he’s had a newspaper to read, and he was so excited that he forgot to be quiet as he dragged his chair out from the table to sit. “I’ll make you some coffee, Father.”

The smell of the coffee brought Mother and Max into the kitchen. Max noticed the newspaper immediately, grabbed a chair, and sat himself down right next to Father so he could read at the same time. They were both mesmerized by that one thin newspaper and didn’t even notice when I placed their coffee cups in front of them.

Father and Max finally finished with the newspaper. “After weeks of constant fighting and bombardment, the Polish army units defending Warsaw had no choice but to surrender control of the city to the Germans,” Father said, paraphrasing the news stories. “Sections of the city are burning, but since the Germans destroyed the city’s waterworks, there was no way to extinguish the fires. Warsaw’s drinking water isn’t potable, so residents are being warned to boil all water before use. Beginning today, the remaining one hundred thousand or so Polish soldiers are to be evacuated to German POW camps. It’s estimated that in the past month, more than six hundred thousand Polish troops have been captured by the Germans and Russians, more than sixty thousand Polish soldiers have been killed, and more than one hundred thousand Polish troops escaped to Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania. Several tens of thousands of Polish civilians have also been killed. The entire country was now occupied by either Germany or Russia. Despite this situation, the Polish government-in-exile is refusing to issue a formal surrender.”

“Does that mean the fighting is over?” I asked.

“That’s hard to say,” Father responded. “Even if the actual invasion is finished and head-to-head combat has ended, the killing may not be. Both the Germans and Russians have a history of eliminating all people and organizations that oppose them or will get in the way of their plans for the conquered territories. We’re apparently in the Russian-occupied territory. Some of our older citizens may like to think that this is a known enemy, but Communist Russia is different from Czarist Russia. We’ll have to keep our eyes and ears open.”

I caught a glimpse of the clock. How is it eleven o’clock already? I jumped up from the table and ran into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I have to get ready for my date with Peter. As I hurried to dress and fix my hair I hummed my favorite song, trying to put myself in a better mood after the negative news reports. How can I be worried about my date when so many people have been killed? I sat down to take a deep breath and think about this for a moment. Our town, while occupied by the Russians, had been largely untouched by the fighting, especially compared to Warsaw. Do we continue on with our lives and just put them out of our minds? Yes and no, I guess. The Polish government will find a way to build up our military again, and with help from our allies, we’ll evict the Germans and Russians from Poland once and for all. Yes, I nodded to myself. Good attitude.

I finished getting ready. This is my second-favorite dress, dark green with a brown belt. My favorite dress is the light blue one, but I think the green one makes me look more mature. I am sixteen now. It’s time to leave little-girl things in the past. As usual, though, my hair is hopeless, too straight to do much of anything. I found a pretty brown hair clip, pulled back the hair from both sides of my head, and fastened the clip on the back of my head, leaving a wisp of a bang. It’ll have to do. Grandma Em gave me some pretty emerald earrings for my thirteenth birthday that finish off the outfit.

“You look very pretty,” Mother said. Father just nodded and went back to studying his newspaper.

“What’s that on your nose?” Max asked.

“What is it?” I rubbed my nose. “Did I get it off?”

Mother gave Max a little shove. “Don’t listen to him. Your nose is fine.”

I walked over and gave Max more than just a little shove. “I’ll get you for that.”

There was a knock at the door. I smoothed out my dress and walked slowly toward the door, knowing that they were all watching me. A big smile came over my face as I opened the door. “Peter, come in. Meet my parents.” He was also smiling as he removed his hat and entered the apartment.

Max greeted him. “Good to see you, buddy. Right on time. That’s a good start.”

Father walked over to take Peter’s hand. “Peter, nice to meet you. You look familiar. Have we met before?”

“The pleasure’s mine, sir. My father owns the liquor store a few blocks from here. I help out there sometimes on Saturdays. Maybe you saw me there, hauling boxes around.”

“Oh yes, I do know your father. Very nice man. He always has a new joke for me when I stop by.”

“Yes, that’s him. He has an interesting sense of humor. I notice you said ‘new’ joke, not ‘good’ joke. I wonder sometimes if he’s the only one who understands his jokes,” Peter said with a chuckle. My father laughed too.

Peter turned to my mother. “Ma’am, very nice to meet you. Max talks a lot about the wonderful desserts you make.”

“Thank you, Peter. It’s very nice to meet you too. Where are you and Helena going to eat?”

“There’s a little café that Max recommended in a section of the city that the Russians don’t seem to have much interest in. We can’t say that about many places, so I’m hoping it isn’t too crowded.”

“That sounds nice,” Mother said.

I could tell that she was nervous about my going out into the city without Max or Father. Max sensed it, too, so he jumped in.

“Peter knows all of the side streets to get there and back, so they can avoid the areas where the Russians are stationed or patrolling.”

“Well, we should get going,” Peter said. “We might have to wait for a table, and I’d like to finish lunch before it’s time for dinner.” Peter shook hands with my parents again and gave Max a nod. He helped me on with my sweater and escorted me out of the apartment.

“Whew, I’m glad that’s over,” Peter said. “You never know how the first meeting with your date’s parents will go.”

“So you do this often?” I asked.

Peter smiled. “Don’t worry, not that often. You have a very nice family and they obviously care about you a lot. That’s good to have. It’s been just me and my father for as long as I can remember. and he’s very busy with the store.”

“What happened to your mother?”

“When I was five years old, she suffered a miscarriage, twins, and she had an emotional breakdown. I don’t really remember it, but my father told me that after a couple of months, she seemed to be recovering, until one day she swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills when she was home alone. I was out of town, staying with my grandparents for the summer. By the time my father got home that day, she was already gone. At the time, my grandparents told me that she had been ill and died peacefully in her sleep. My father buried her before I got home and then threw himself into his work. I don’t really have any memories of her.”

“Oh, my goodness, that’s so sad. My mother had some complications while giving birth to me and she couldn’t have any more children. So I’m stuck with Max,” I joked. “No, I’m just kidding. Max is a good brother. Sometimes he still treats me like a little girl, though.”

“You’re definitely not a little girl.” Peter smiled as he offered me his arm. I couldn’t help but return the smile as I looped my arm through his.

We took turns sharing stories about our lives, school, and interests as we strolled along to the café and all during lunch. The café was crowded but we arrived just as the noon lunch crowd was finishing their meals, and we didn’t have to wait long for a table. There was never a lull in the conversation, and I felt very comfortable sharing personal stories with Peter. He seemed genuinely interested in all of them. He talked about the summers he spent with his grandparents and how he’s wanted to be a trial lawyer from an early age. He told me that he visits his mother’s grave each year on her birthday to update her on his life over the past year.

“I know, talking to a headstone is strange,” he said, “but it’s the only connection I have to her, and it gives me peace. My father never mentions her. With him, it’s all about the store and my education.”

After lunch we began our slow walk home. Peter reached for my hand. After a few moments I heard a sound in the distance. “Was that gunfire?” I asked him.

“That’s what it sounded like, but I think it came from the other side of town, nowhere near us.”

We began to walk a little faster anyway. Those sounds brought me back to the reality of the current situation. For the last couple of hours , I'd completely forgotten about the war. As we arrived at the next cross street, Peter suddenly pulled me back. “Russian troops,” he said.

We stepped back a few feet and sat on the front steps of an apartment building. Peter put his arm around my shoulder and we pretended to be minding our own business until they passed. When I turned to glance at the soldiers marching past, I could feel Peter’s warm breath on the back of my neck. When I turned my head to look at him, he kissed me,  my first real kiss, and I felt a tingle run through my body. Peter obviously had more experience than I did. As he pulled away, he stroked my cheek with the back of his fingers.

“The soldiers are gone now,” he said. “I think I should get you home.”

We held hands and walked in silence. “Thank you for a wonderful afternoon, Peter,” I said as we approached my apartment building.

“It was my pleasure. How about we make Saturday lunch a regular date?”

“I’d like that very much.”

“Good. I’ll talk to you soon.” He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, made sure I was safely in the building, and walked away. I watched him for a moment and found myself already thinking about seeing him next week.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Just A Wall - Chapter Eight

After the freedom I experienced on Monday spending the day with Max in the city and at his clandestine meeting, the rest of the week proved to be very boring. Father told Mother that she and I shouldn’t leave the building without him or Max. He gets to go out to work. Max sleeps late, eats lunch, and then disappears for the rest of the day. That leaves Mother and me to create ways to make the time pass more quickly. I do want to spend any more time with my school-books because, if classes really do start up again on Monday, I don’t want to be too far behind.

Finally, something exciting happened. Peter called me Thursday afternoon. I answered the phone and Mother kept asking me who I was talking to. “Just a friend from school,” I kept repeating, becoming more annoyed with each inquiry. Peter and I talked for a little while about what we’ve been doing since the invasion, but Mother, even though she pretended to be busy, was listening to the conversation. Peter and I made plans to meet for lunch on Saturday.

Just as I hung up the phone Father came through the door. “Why are you home so early?” Mother asked.

“Turn on the radio,” he replied as he turned it on himself.

The local stations were still only broadcasting sporadically, first under German control and then under Russian control. We’re still receiving a signal from London. Warsaw has fallen! The Polish government-in-exile is expected to surrender. We aren’t completely surprised, but it’s still shocking news.

“What will happen now, Father?” I asked.

“That’s a good question, sweetie,” Father replied, caressing my cheek. “For now, we still have to deal with the occupying Russians. Beyond that, I have no idea.”

Mother is trying to hold back her tears. “Michal, can you take me over to my father’s apartment? I want to make sure he heard the news and that he’s alright.”

“Of course, we’ll go over right now, and then I’ll walk you back home. Helena, will you be okay by yourself for a little while?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll keep the radio on while you’re gone and give you an update if I hear anything new.”

They grabbed their coats and left. Ah, alone time.

Shortly after my parents left, Max returned home. “Did you hear the news?” he asked.

“Yes, we heard a little while ago. Mother and Father went over to check on Grandpa Nick. What do you think will happen next?”

“There’s no way to know for sure. I was with my friends at the library when our friend Jakov arrived with the news. We were all quiet at first, then we all began speaking at once. The consensus is that Poland would have to deal with being divided and occupied once again, and that we shouldn’t trust that the Germans or the Russians will honor any agreements made between them regarding Poland.”

I nodded and sighed but couldn’t stop myself from asking if Peter was there.

Max smiled. “Yes, Peter was there. He told me that you two have a lunch date planned for Saturday. Did you tell Mother and Father yet?”

“No. Not yet. We had just finished our telephone conversation when Father came rushing in with the news of the surrender. What do you think they’ll say?”

“It’s hard to say with everything else going on. I tease Peter but he’s a good guy. I’ll make sure they know that.”

“Thank you. I’ll try to tell them tonight at dinner.”

We sat together on the sofa, listening to the news. Many Polish soldiers and civilians were killed during the siege at Warsaw, and sections of the city are in ruins. The Germans have also taken a lot of prisoners, but some of the soldiers were able to escape to the east, presumably into Soviet territory. They’ll probably join the Russian army if the Germans and Russians come to blows. We hoped to hear more about what action England and France are taking to come to our aid but nothing was mentioned about it. What good are allies if they don’t have our backs?

Mother walked in. “Oh good, Max, you’re home. I assume you heard the news. Your grandfather is very angry at the entire situation. After twenty years of independence, Poland is once again at the mercy of invaders. We tried to talk him into coming here for dinner, but he said that he had made plans with his neighbor for dinner, cards, and listening to the radio. Maybe the two of you can visit him over the weekend. I know that'll cheer him up.” We both agreed. She said that she needed to go lay down for a little while.

“Max, you mentioned your friend Jakov. Is he a Jew?” I asked.

“Yes, he is. Why?”

“I was just wondering. I noticed at Monday’s meeting that you patted him on the back after the mention of how the Germans were treating the Jews. Was his family affected by the Germans during the time they were here?”

“Most of his family is fine. Now they're living on the other side of town in the Jewish neighborhood. His mother’s brother-in-law owned the liquor store that was vandalized on the town square, and he and his family were evicted from their apartment above the store. They weren’t physically injured, just terrified. Luckily they have family to stay with.”

“I’m still not sure how I feel about the Jews,” I commented. “I don’t know any. Mother has some very strong negative opinions about them, but I don’t know why she feels that way. Father seems to ignore her when she expresses an opinion about them. I’ve been meaning to ask Father about it, but he’s been busy. I just don’t understand why people can’t just get along in spite of their differences.”

“It’s a complicated topic, the mistreatment of Jews throughout history. In my opinion, there is usually a bit of truth to every rumor, but those truths have been exaggerated to the point of instigating hatred and violence. I’ve known Jakov for more than a year now, and he’s an honest, smart, hardworking man. None of the stories that we’ve been told about the Jews seem to apply to him. Proof, I guess, that we shouldn’t make assumptions about any one person without getting to know him or her first.”

Max is right. Maybe if I attend another of Max’s meetings, I can speak with Jakov for a while and get to know him. I still want to speak with Father about Mother’s opinion of the Jews, and I’m also curious about his views on the subject.

Mother came out of her bedroom shortly before Father walked through the front door, almost as if she could sense he was coming home and she needed to get dinner ready. It was a quiet meal. Max kept kicking me under the table, prodding me to bring up the subject of Peter. Finally, I kicked him back hard enough for him to wince and that got the attention of our parents.

“What’s going on with you two?” Mother asked. Max smiled. I guess it was time to tell them.

With a deep breath I said “Mother, Father, I want to let you know that I made a date with Max’s friend, Peter. He’s taking me to lunch on Saturday.”

Father carefully placed his fork on his dinner plate and leaned forward, “A date? Who is this Peter person? You’re too young to date.”

“I am not too young to date,” I exclaimed. “You and Mother told me that I could date when I turned sixteen. Well, I’m sixteen now. Besides, it’s just lunch. We’re not running off to get married.”

“Max, who is Peter and how is it that Helena had the opportunity to meet him?” Father asked.

“Peter is a schoolmate. I met him on my first day at the university. We’ve had a lot of classes together, and we belong to the same study group. On Monday, when Helena and I spent the day visiting people, we stopped by the library at the university. I was curious to see if the study group was still meeting and how everyone was doing. That’s when Helena met Peter. Peter is smart and has a good sense of humor. You’ll like him.”

My parents were both quiet for a moment. Then Mother gave Father a nod. “Well, I’m not sure I like this whole dating thing but I guess you are growing up. I want to meet Peter before you go out with him.”

“You'll meet him. He’s picking me up at noon on Saturday.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 6, 1907

Excerpts from the issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle issued on September 6, 1907, the day my paternal grandfather, Aaron Klein (aka Harry, Harvey) and his brother Joseph, were born. They were born in Manhattan, but the family moved to Brooklyn by the 1910 census.


France and Spain to Take Virtual Military Control of the Country
Paris, September 6--A most important chance, the Associate Press is informed, has occurred in the political aspect of the Moroccan question, a change which may have a far-reaching effect on the future of Morocco and the relations of the powers thereto. France and Spain have the intention to occupy the Littoral ports of Morocco with their own forces and establish police organizations.. This contemplated action results from the official announcement of the Moroccan government, through the war minister, El Gabas, that it is unable to guarantee the safety of the European instructors of the international police force, which under the terms of the Algeciras Convention, was to the composed of Moors.
The dilemma of France and Spain, who by the terms of the Algeciras Convention are compelled to organize the international police, was submitted to the signatory powers, including the United States, and they all agreed that the situation demanded that France and Spain police Morocco themselves. Although it is distinctly stipulated that such occupation is merely provisional, or until it is safe to recruit the police from among the Moors, there is a strong feeling that the absolute anarchy reigning in Morocco may mean that the occupation of the ports may be long drawn out and perhaps indefinite. Moreover, the occupation of the posts may cause serious complications, resulting from the continued hostility of the fanatical Moors, a hostility which may compel an enlargement of the police action and culminate in a virtual military control of the Moroccan empire. This, however, will depend on the attitude of the Moors.
France has planned to occupy Mazagan, Mogador, Safi and Rabat, and Spain is to occupy El Araish and Tetuan. France and Spain together will occupy Casablanca and Tangier. Arrangements for the policing of these ports are now being made.
An official denial was issued to-day of the statement from Casablanca last night that the French Cruiser Gloire, with three companies of the Foreign Legion on board, had left Casablanca for an unknown destination.


Four Received for Queens End of Blackwell Island Span

Bids have been opened by the Bridge Commission for the construction of the Queens approach to the Blackwell's Island Bridge. It is to be of steel and masonry. Four bids were received, the lowest being that of the Maryland Steel Company, which will do the work for $758,600. The other bids were the Buckley Realty Construction Company, $797,804; William Engineering and Contracting Company, $809,345; and the Richard Henningham Company, $914,170.
No award has been made. Whether one will be made or not is doubtful. The city's finances are in bad shape and it is hardly possible that other than absolutely necessary contracts will be entered by any department heads for a time, until Mayor McClellan finds out how the city treasury will be after the bond issue next Tuesday. If that should fail department heads will be kept down to necessities. The bridge was to have been finished by December, 1908.
[Blackwell's Island was later named Welfare Island (1921-1971) and then Roosevelt Island. The name of the bridge was later changed to Queensboro Bridge. Here is a photo of the bridge taken August 8, 1907, 4 weeks before this story was published: ]


Thaddeus L Weber, a lad living at 429 Seventy-eighth street, made an interesting find of an old coin the other day in Bay Ridge. He was digging in the earth to pot a plant, when he came across a silver coin about the size of a dime. It was badly rusted, but after cleaning it the piece was found to bear the date of 1783 and this inscription: "Carolus III by the grace of God, 1783." On the other side are the letters "R. M. F." and the Spanish coat of arms.


A Triumph in Sugar Making

Sold only in 5-lb boxes by all first-class grocers

Women suffering from any form of female weakness are invited
to promptly communicate with Mrs. Pinkham, at Lynn, Mass.
Her advice is always free and always helpful.
MEN ADMIRE a pretty face, a good figure, but sooner or later learn that the healthy, happy contented woman is most of all to be admired.
Women troubled with fainting spells, irregularities, nervous irritability, backache, the "blues" and those dreadful dragging sensations, cannot hop to be happy or popular, and advancement in either home , business or social life is impossible.
The cause of these troubles, however, yields quickly to Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound made from native roots and herbs. It acts at once upon the organ afflicted and the nerve centers, dispelling effectually all those distressing symptoms. No other medicine in the country has received such unqualified indorsement [original misspelling] or has such a records of cures of female ills as has
Lydia A. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound


American Tourists in Chili

A cable dispatch was received in New York this morning by Thomas Cook & Son stating that their "Pioneer Party" of American tourists to make the grand tour of South America have reached Antofogasta, Chili, and they were just starting for the climb of the Andes Mountains to Lake Titicaca and La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The party is all well and in the best of health and spirits. From Peru they proceed to Panama to inspect the canal works.



BOOKKEEPER and cashier, a young American man;
references required; chance for advancement
to good man

COACHMAN, colored preferred; must be sober, reliable,
willing and understand his business thoroughly.

IN a dental office, a boy, not more than 16 years of age;
must be tidy and honest and live with his parents.



Total of $11,435,600, Smallest for Any Month This Year.

The fire loss of the United States and Canada for the month of August, as compiled by the Journal of Commerce, shows a total of $20,248,000.

Left: Part of the recently discovered Wall of Constantine, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in background.
Center: Plan showing the course of the Old Wall and Gateways of Constantine, which once surrounded the Tomb of Christ and Calvary.
Right: Another view of the Wall of Constantine, showing the masonry pillars and one of the portals.